by Marion Nestle
Feb 7 2009

And now, genetically engineered goats!

On Friday (of course), the FDA approved the first genetically modified goats. These have been bioengineered with a human gene that makes the anti-clotting protein, antithrombin. The goats excrete this protein into their milk (I hope their babies aren’t drinking this milk).   Antithrombin ordinarily has to be extracted from human plasma, an unreliable source.  This way, if more antithrombin is needed, the company that invented this scheme  (GTC Biotherapeutics) just milks more goats.  The FDA had previously approved doing things like this in theory, but this is the first practical application.  Some antithrombin with your goat cheese, anyone?

  • What I find most alarming about this is that these animals do not come with a tag around their necks, and how long will it be before they make it to Homer Zuckerman’s Homestead farm? Homer, completely unaware, purchases an animal at auction, and off we go!

  • Bix

    Question … does anyone know what happens to these genetically engineered animals when their use as drug factories ends? Seriously … do they enter become human food? Pet food? (Much appreciated 🙂

  • Margie

    Sinclair … according to FDA’s “final guidance” the animals themselves are supposed to be labeled, although how that is to be accomplished is not really specified. I suppose it will be determined on an animal by animal basis but I have not read anything about that yet … if someone has more info please share.

    Bix … No, no one really knows. FDA/USDA “strongly encourages” a disposal plan and it was implied that a GE animal would not be approved unless there was a plan in place to ensure they would not go to the slaughterhouses (like many of the clones in the past). They are especially concerned about the “failure animals” – the animals that are engineered but do not succeed/survive, and sent a letter to all university presidents to be especially careful about this a few years ago. However, as with all things FDA these days, enforcement budgets are small and follow-up data is slim.

    The GE animal stories will probably heat up in the next couple months, because the final guidance was approved in January (the Friday before President Obama’s inauguration) and places the approval process under the ADUFA, which only gives FDA 180 days to decide on applications. After 180 days FDA has to approve the animals for use, or has to give the applicant a detailed list of things to “fix” in order to gain approval. So we should start to see more info on these approvals and denials starting in the next few weeks and heading into the fall.